Avoiding easy

When you spend all day work­ing with the same piece of soft­ware your def­i­n­i­tion of what is easy for some­one else becomes hor­ri­bly skewed. Since I started jam­ming with the CoPress gang in 2009, I have spent thou­sands of hours star­ing at a Word­Press dash­board. It means much of the Word­Press inter­face is easy for me. That’s dangerous.

I try to min­i­mize the num­ber of times I use easy in a sup­port reply. I avoid phrases like “Set­ting up cus­tom menus is easy…” or “Writ­ing a new post is easy…” There are a few rea­sons for this.

First, if a fea­ture or prod­uct were legit­i­mately easy the user would not be writ­ing in to sup­port about how stuck they are. Sure, some per­cent­age of users will find ques­tions to ask about any inter­face. But do you want to start the con­ver­sa­tion by assum­ing the user falls into that per­cent­age? You ven­ture to learn much more if you assume the soft­ware is wrong, not the user.

Sec­ond, describ­ing some­thing as easy sets a dan­ger­ously high bar for the user when they walk away and try it for them­selves. Before you char­ac­ter­ize a fea­ture as easy you should be cer­tain it actu­ally is. If you say “easy” and the user does not get it they will, at best, feel like they are wast­ing your time and, at worst, feel like it is not worth using your product.

Finally, the worst part about say­ing a prod­uct is easy is that it imme­di­ately starts the con­ver­sa­tion by putting you in com­mand. You are the expert. You are the one who said it was easy. In some cases that is okay. It will work out. But doing so shuts down your oppor­tu­nity for learn­ing from your users. If, instead, you think back to the days when you did not know every­thing, you can start the con­ver­sa­tion on an equal ground. Help the user accom­plish their goal but also learn about where the pain points are so that you can make the user’s expe­ri­ence, and your prod­uct, better.

The best sup­port is a con­ver­sa­tion. The best sup­port hap­pens when a user learns how to do some­thing new and you learn about how your prod­uct can be bet­ter. This can only hap­pen when you do not imme­di­ately think of your soft­ware as easy, intu­itive, or sim­ple. If you can remem­ber that you too were once new to things you will end up with a bet­ter prod­uct and, most impor­tantly, hap­pier users.

12 Responses to “Avoiding easy”

  1. I grav­i­tate toward begin­ners work­shops for this reason.

    Many users don’t write out their thought process in emails. Instead, they ask ques­tions or express frus­tra­tion about some­thing that just doesn’t work. We see only the result of their think­ing — not the process.

    If we’re not care­ful, we can wrongly assume that there is no thought process. That users are ask­ing “easy” ques­tions because they’re lazy, and don’t want to be bothered.

    It’s very dif­fi­cult to make this mis­take when you look at a per­son try­ing their best to under­stand some­thing new.

  2. Man­i­festo material:

    The best sup­port is a con­ver­sa­tion. The best sup­port hap­pens when a user learns how to do some­thing new and you learn about how your prod­uct can be bet­ter. This can only hap­pen when you do not imme­di­ately think of your soft­ware as easy, intu­itive, or sim­ple. If you can remem­ber that you too were once new to things you will end up with a bet­ter prod­uct and, most impor­tantly, hap­pier users.

  3. Easy” is rel­a­tive. I try not to judge other people’s inter­pre­ta­tion of the world, in life or in support.

    Instead of say­ing some­thing is easy, I like say­ing I’m here and ready-and-willing to help–and then fol­low­ing through on that (which doesn’t always hap­pen at other places).

  4. If some­one comes to sup­port, they often bring bag­gage with them — frus­tra­tion, con­fu­sion, impa­tience. In addi­tion to what you listed above, say­ing some­thing is “easy” can be seen as dis­miss­ing the user’s feel­ings (because sup­port about atti­tudes and per­cep­tions as much, if not more, than about actual soft­ware). Dis­miss­ing the user’s feel­ings is the best way to alien­ate them. They feel truly sup­ported when not only their tech­ni­cal prob­lem is solved, but also when it’s solved in a friendly, com­pas­sion­ate, non-condenscending way. For me, that’s what “Hap­pi­ness” in “Hap­pi­ness Engi­neer­ing” stands for.

  5. […] Avoid­ing easy Posted on Feb­ru­ary 7, 2012 by Andrew Nacin If a fea­ture or prod­uct were legit­i­mately easy the user would not be writ­ing in to sup­port about how stuck they are. Sure, some per­cent­age of users will find ques­tions to ask about any inter­face. But do you want to start the con­ver­sa­tion by assum­ing the user falls into that per­cent­age? You ven­ture to learn much more if you assume the soft­ware is wrong, not the user. — Andrew Spit­tle, “Avoid­ing Easy” […]

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